The scientific community in New Zealand and around the world has been buzzing with the news of Jim Salinger’s dismissal by NIWA, and messages of support have been flooding in. This morning’s NZ Herald quotes former colleagues bemused by NIWA’s action:
Former Niwa scientist Andy Reisinger, who now works at Victoria University, said the decision to sack someone of Dr Salinger’s standing for breaking media protocol was “incomprehensible”. “I’m not sure how that can be justified.”
Others are concerned at the increasing bureaucratisation of the research institutes:
Dr Dave Lowe, who left his job as a principal atmospheric scientist at Niwa about 18 months ago, said one reason for his departure was a lack of freedom “to get on with the job”.
“These big Crown research institutions have become dominated by managers. They tend to forget that the bread and butter for the company … comes from its top scientists and they include people like Jim Salinger.”
In this week’s NBR, Tom Frewen’s Media Watch column provides some interesting background on the revamping of NIWA (not available online):
…the board and chief executive then  embarked on a programme of corporatisation, ratcheting up directors’ allowances and executive salaries to attract top talent. NIWA’s 2007-8 annual report reveals that the number of employees on $100,000 – $110,000 doubled from 24 to 51, while those on $110,000 – $120,000 tripled from ten to 30.
Frewen also quotes the new NIWA chief executive , John Morgan, from that same report:
Something we recognise is that the science sector is not too good at promoting itself. We need to better communicate our science. NIWA’s duty is to be experts and confidently present facts. This can be a challenge” Mr Morgan added ominously, “in a media environment where personal opinions and controversy often gain profile.”
Ominous words for Jim, Frewen concludes.
Meanwhile The Press this morning prints a letter of support for Salinger from expat New Zealand scientist professor Peter Lamb of the University of Ohio:
Dr Salinger has demonstrated a remarkable ability to communicate complex scientific information to the public. Few scientists are able to perform this role as well as he does.
Salinger’s also been getting support in Parliament, with Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons asking the hard questions:
John Key said in a speech in 2005 that he didnâ€™t want NZ to keep exporting scientists and importing taxi drivers. This case wonâ€™t help him realise his dream.